SACRAMENTO — There were hugs, high-fives and flying shoulder bumps involving Kobe Bryant on Thursday at Power Balance Pavilion.
All to celebrate Bryant’s winning the NBA scoring title on the last day of the regular season?
Not so much.
The Lakers star was taking part in a playful competition with teammates and assistant coach Chuck Person after the morning shoot-around to see who could make the most half-court shots.
Bryant passed on the opportunity to make baskets that counted later in the day against the Sacramento Kings, essentially conceding the scoring title to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
Durant secured his third consecutive scoring title by averaging 28.03 points per game this season, a few ticks above Bryant’s 27.86 average.
Sitting out against the Kings gave the 33-year-old Bryant, who recently missed seven games because of a sore left shin, extra rest before the Lakers’ playoff opener Sunday at Staples Center against Denver.
The Lakers had already clinched the third spot in the Western Conference standings, rendering the game against Sacramento all but meaningless.
“There was no question in his mind,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said of Bryant. “Not one time did he ever hint to me that he was going to play.... He thinks it’s best for him and best for the team.”
Bryant needed 38 points to surpass Durant for what would have been his third scoring title and first since the 2006-07 season. Bryant had reached that single-game scoring threshold seven times this season but has said since last week that the scoring title was “not very important” to him.
Brown said he asked Bryant how old he would have had to be to go for the scoring title, and Bryant told his coach he wouldn’t have gone for it at any age.
To make his point, Bryant relayed the details of a December 2005 game in which he single-handedly outscored Dallas, 62-61, through three quarters. Asked by then-Lakers Coach Phil Jackson whether he wanted to play in the fourth quarter, Bryant declined.
“Contrary to what everybody possibly thinks about him,” Brown said, alluding to a perception that Bryant is motivated solely by scoring, “that’s not what he’s all about even though he could go out and get 40 [against the Kings]. He’s capable of going out and getting 40 literally on any given night.”
Jordan Hill’s 14-point, 15-rebound game against Oklahoma City on Sunday has catapulted him from end-of-the-bench reserve to the primary backup to starting big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol heading into the playoffs. “Jordan has earned the right to continue getting looks as the third big,” Brown said. … Brown said he did not know whether Matt Barnes could return from his sprained right ankle for the Lakers’ playoff opener. When Barnes does come back, Brown said, he will “probably not” take the suspended Metta World Peace’s spot in the starting lineup, meaning the job will probably go to Devin Ebanks. “We have a rotation right now that we feel good with,” Brown said.